According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), ecstasy, otherwise known as MDMA, impacts many of the same neurochemicals in the brain as other intoxicating drugs. Still, research has not yet determined whether or not it is genuinely addictive. Moreover, experiments have found that ecstasy does have a potential for addiction, but its potential may be relatively low compared to other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine.
Of note, some people who use MDMA report symptoms that may reflect addiction, including continual drug use despite adverse physical or psychological consequences, the development of tolerance, withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of use and drug cravings.
What Is Ecstasy or MDMA?
MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a synthetic drug that has both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Its use is associated with an energizing effect, time and perception distortions, and increased pleasure from sensory experiences. Ecstasy users have also reported feeling a marked increase in self-awareness and empathy for others.
The name “ecstasy” is often used to refer to MDMA found in capsule or tablet form, which is the most common way of using the drug. However, some research has found ecstasy tablets containing MDMA at varying concentrations and some batches adulterated with other contaminants, such as methamphetamine, which can be detrimental to one’s health.
Effects of Ecstasy
Once MDMA is ingested in tablet form, the person begins feeling the effects about 45 minutes later on average. These effects are most significant from 15-30 minutes after they are first experienced and last between 3-6 hours.
Individuals typically consume one to two tablets at a time, with each pill, on average, containing between 50-150 milligrams of MDMA. Users will often take a second dose as the first dose’s effects begin to wane, increasing the likelihood of adverse side effects as the doses compound upon each other.
Ecstasy’s sought-after effects include the following:
- Enhanced sense of well-being
- Enhanced sensory perception
- Emotional warmth
- Increased extroversion
- Increased empathy toward others
- Willingness to discuss emotionally-charged memories
Unwanted side effects may include the following:
- Involuntary jaw clenching
- Loss of appetite
- Disorganized thoughts
- Restless legs
- Hot flashes or chills
- Joint or muscle stiffness
- Anxiety and panic attacks
More severe side effects, which are rare but potentially life-threatening, include the following:
- Profoundly increased body temperature (hyperthermia)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Loss of consciousness
Due to its stimulating properties and the situations in which it is often used—dancing at clubs, raves, bars, parties, concerts, etc.—ecstasy can result in a dramatic rise in body temperature (hyperthermia). Treatment of hyperthermia requires immediate medical intervention, as it can quickly lead to muscle breakdown or an electrolyte imbalance. This condition, in turn, can lead to kidney failure or a lethal swelling of the brain.
When ecstasy is used in conjunction with vigorous exercise, this also causes dehydration, driving some people to drink copious amounts of liquids. However, this could actually increase the risk of electrolyte imbalance or brain swelling because ecstasy causes the body to retain water.
In the hours after using ecstasy, the drug can produce marked reductions in a person’s ability to perceive and predict motion, such as determining if a car is in danger of colliding with another vehicle. This fact underscores the potential risks of performing skilled or complex activities while intoxicated by MDMA.
Effects of Regular MDMA Use
Regular MDMA use has been linked to the following symptoms:
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Concentration problems
- Poor cognitive functioning
- Heart disease
For Loved Ones: Signs of Ecstasy Abuse
If a person close to you is exhibiting the following signs or symptoms, they may be using MDMA:
- High levels of stimulation energy
- Long hours of wakefulness
- Acting friendly or affectionate
- Dancing for an extended period
- Sensitivity to music or lights
- Exaggerated pleasure from touch
- Reduced pain sensitivity
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chills and sweating
- Blurry vision, dilated pupils
- Muscle cramps
Treatment for MDMA Abuse
Although ecstasy may not have the potential for addiction as many other drugs, it can be abused, and studies have shown that it can also be habit-forming. Using ecstasy is risky under any circumstance, but binging on the drug, especially in an environment conducive to physical exertion and overheating, is especially dangerous.
Persons who are routinely abusing ecstasy are highly encouraged to undergo professional addiction treatment in the form of a comprehensive, evidence-based approach. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer such programs in both partial hospitalization and residential formats that include essential treatments such as psychotherapy, counseling, group support, relapse prevention, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and more.